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Showing posts from October, 2007

Later, All Hallow's Eve

Nice neck, and Walking Off the Big Apple is wearing her fangs.

The New BAD (Bowery art district) Springs Up Along Bummer Street

WOTBA (Walking Off the Big Apple) wishes you a Happy Halloween, and I would like to send a special All Hallow's Eve greeting to all the gallerists of the new BAD (Bowery art district).

As all-in-the-know are aware, the Bowery has recently awakened from its famed languid derelictions to embrace the life-affirming values of art. On the side streets of NoLita and the Lower East Side, galleries big and small jockey for positions around the New Museum's big ghost mothership on the Bowery. Essex, Eldridge, Rivington, Spring, Greene, Chrystie - yes, all these streets come together to form the BAD.

Artists and writers have lived along the Bowery for a long time, and I'll cite just one example here. 222 Bowery, a loft coop between Spring and Prince, is home to all sorts of fascinating living people, but among its deceased denizens we can count the likes of Fernand Leger, Mark Rothko, and William Burroughs.

Everyone, including WOTBA, is sad about last year's closing of The Bowery&#…

The Bowery 2007 Walk: Crying in Public

More on my advocacy of The Bowery as the designated Melancholy District:

Ah me I busted out
Don't even ask me how
I went to get some help
I walked by a Guernsey cow
Who directed me down
To the Bowery slums
Where people carried signs around
Saying, "Ban the bums"
I jumped right into line
Sayin', "I hope that I'm not late"
When I realized I hadn't eaten
For five days straight

-from Bob Dylan's 115th Dream, Bringing It All Back Home, 1965

Johnny Ryall is the bum on my stoop
I gave him fifty cents to buy some soup
He knows the time with the fresh Gucci watch
He's even more over than the mayor Ed Koch
Washing windows on the Bowery at a quarter to four
'Cause he ain't gonna' work on Maggie's farm no more

-from Beastie Boys' Johnny Ryall, Paul's Boutique, 1989

With a metropolis so large as New York City, it's not unusual to witness strangers crying in public. While I was working on the Upper East Side last year, I cried a few times myself as…

The Bowery 2007 Walk: Bummer Street Then and Now

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When the Third Avenue El operated along the Bowery from the 1870s to the early 1950s, the tracks plunged the street into shadowy gloom, making it easy for bad things to happen in the dark. The Bowery became for many the home of last resort, a collective magnet for degradation and shame.

From The WPA Guide to New York (1939):

"Thousands of the nation's unemployed drift to this section and may be seen sleeping in all-night restaurants, in doorways, and on loading platforms, furtively begging, or waiting with hopeless faces for some bread line or free lodging house to open."

From the Michelin Green Guide, 7th edition, c. 1984:

"It is best known for its 'bums' – homeless alcoholics, drug addicts, the chronically disturbedand the unemployed. A walk along it is not dangerous but depressing, and may make you feel uneasy. Derelicts lie on the sidewalks or in doorways and wait for handouts. The Bowery is also a great center for buying electrical goods espe…

The Bowery 2007 Walk: General Themes

Readers of Walking Off the Big Apple know that I just don't walk to shop, eat, and exercise. I walk to make a big deal of something, to see walks as metaphors for other issues. With Garbo Walks, I explore the issues of privacy, celebrity culture, and postwar New York. My British Invasion Walk comments on the continuing influence of English culture on American society. In short, pedestrian activity leads down some unfamiliar streets, even for me.

I'm all about the Bowery right now. The street serves as a slippery signifier of constant urban change, and with imperfect points of departure for its new iteration. The buildings along the way constitute a mélange of layered histories. Many businesses are closing, new hotels and residences are rising, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, probably the most formidable player, will set a tone in its special way.

I am excited about the New Museum arriving on the Bowery, watching its boxy whiteness unfold in its metallic mesh clothing. …

The Bowery 2007: The Art World Likes to Fix Things Up

From "On the Bowery, a New Home for New Art" by Carol Vogel, The New York Times, March 28, 2007The board spent a year scouring the city for its new home. “It wasn’t till we saw the empty parking lot on the Lower East Side that we knew we’d found the spot,” Ms. Phillips said. “The board saw the potential before I did. They saw right away how consistent it was with the museum’s mission. They loved the fact that the neighborhood was rough and the street was languishing, and that it was a major avenue with easy subway access.”

Once more: "They loved the fact that the neighborhood was rough and the street was languishing, and that it was a major avenue with easy subway access.”

See the complete walk here.

The Bowery 2007: Preliminaries, continued

"Progressive business men will not become interested in ancient and dilapidated buildings."

From the article "Developments On the Bowery Forecast New and Varied Business Expansion," The New York Times, November 18, 1917

See the complete walk here.

The Bowery 2007: Preliminaries

From Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900):

No more weakly looking object ever strolled out into the spring sunshine than the once hale, lusty manager. All his corpulency had fled.

His face was thin and pale, his hands white, his body flabby. Clothes and all, he weighed but one hundred and thirty- five pounds. Some old garments had been given him--a cheap brown coat and misfit pair of trousers. Also some change and advice. He was told to apply to the charities.
Again he resorted to the Bowery lodging-house, brooding over where to look. From this it was but a step to beggary.

"What can a man do?" he said. "I can't starve."

See the complete walk here.
Image: Louis Sontag, The Bowery at Night, 1895

Weekend Frivolities: The Cupcake Winner

SUGAR SWEET SUNSHINEPUMPKIN CUPCAKE

If you were walking by the corner of Rivington and Norfolk yesterday at about 4 p.m. and saw a woman standing on the corner and eating a pumpkin cupcake, that would have been me.

While this cupcake looks humble compared to the others, it won my personal tasting contest because of one particular quality. It was WARM. In fact, the image here is of a second cupcake because I ate the first one. The cupcake tasted like someone cooked it at home. And the fact that the young woman who sold it to me was dancing at the same time she was talking gave the cupcake some extra mojo.

I liked Pinisi's moist red velvet cupcake, too, and the inside color was redder than red. The Dean & Deluca cupcake was elegant in its texture, like a respectable slice of wedding cake. The Whole Foods R.I.P. cupcake tasted too processed. I thought it was ghastly.

I walked a total of five miles to gather cupcakes, and I didn't finish any of them except the pumpkin ones from Su…

5 Miles, 4 Cupcakes, and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism

The four finalists of the cupcake search: clockwise, from top left:
Dean & Deluca Flower Vanilla Cupcake (Prince & Broadway): $5.50
Whole Foods Market R.I.P. Chocolate Cupcake (E. Houston & Bowery): $4.99
Pinisi Red Velvet Cupcake with Strawberry (128 E. 4th. St.): $3.50
Sugar Sweet Sunshine Pumpkin Cupcake (126 Rivington St.): $1.50
"The cultural, if not moral, justification of capitalism has become hedonism, the idea of pleasure as a way of life. And in the liberal ethos that now prevails, the model for a cultural imago has become the modernist impulse, with its ideological rationale of the impulse quest as a mode of conduct. It is this which is the cultural contradiction of capitalism. It is this which has resulted in the double bind of modernity.-Daniel Bell, Introduction, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, 1976 Stay tuned for the winning cupcake and more discourse on social class.

The Dead End of E. 53rd Street

One block north of Greta Garbo's old apartment building is the end of E. 53rd St. Playwright Sidney Kingsley based his 1935 drama Dead End on this location, which at the time featured luxury apartments of one side of the street and tenement buildings across the way. Rich kids and poor kids mixed it up over there on the East River, and the tensions made for some real life drama that could serve as the basis for theatrical plays.

The popular Broadway play featured the rough-and-tumble lives of the Dead End Kids, and Hollywood producers signed the same kids up to play in the movie version. The original play featured a legendary set by Norman Bel Geddes that heightened the drama of the contrasting architecture. In his design, the front of the stage represented a cove, and the orchestra pit functioned as the East River. During the course of the play characters jumped into the river pit.

The Dead End Kids went on to make a series of movies in the late 1930s, and these were followed by t…

John Butler Yeats (1839-1922): Painter, Father and Personal Trainer to the Stars

Irish painter John Butler Yeats moved to New York in 1907 at the age of 69 and enjoyed what is sometimes referred to as a second childhood. He befriended the Ashcan painters, or the "Eight" - Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur B. Davies, as well as other artists and literati. Yeats lived at 317 West 29th Street, not too far from John Sloan's apartment on West 23rd. When Sloan hurt his back, the spry Yeats insisted on taking him for a hardy walk:

September 22, 1910
"We first rode up town to 57th St. by subway train, then we walked along the Riverside Drive north from this point. A beautiful walk with the city crowding its way into the landscape just enough. New housing near the brow of the hills. The red brown purple blue Palisades across the river. Mr. Yeats kept me moving, the medicinal feature of the walk according to his theory being no dawdling to admire, look and walk and talk. I …

"The Burning of Los Angeles" and the New Yorker Nathanael West

"I love Los Angeles. I love Hollywood. They're beautiful. Everybody's plastic, but I love plastic. I want to be plastic." - Andy Warhol

To recover from a busy few days of guests, I've been sitting in front of the TV and knitting while watching California burn.

While I look at the images of the fiery hills, I think of Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust, the apocalyptic novel set in southern California. The protagonist is a frustrated scenic designer named Tod Hackett who spends his energy painting a large canvas titled The Burning of Los Angeles. Although I sometimes think I'm a seasoned and sophisticated urbanite, I was truly shocked when I read the book. I'll never forget his sardonic portrayal of the vacuous lives of the vacant people who had "come to California to die."

Nathanael West (1903-1940) was a New Yorker, born the son of German Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. He faked his way into college, first at Tufts and then at Brown. …

Garbo Walks: Andy Warhol and the Crumpled Butterfly

Before Andy Warhol became the posthumously ubiquitous symbol of Fame itself, he consciously studied the fame of others. Settling into New York, the then window designer for the city's best stores modeled himself after the famously fabulous Truman Capote. Capote tired of Andy, so Andy got a hint to pursue other celebrities, including Garbo. Even in his own looks he started to fashion himself into a reclusive movie star type, selecting an appropriate wig and some dark glasses.
"He got himself invited to a picnic with Greta Garbo. He was too shy to speak, so he drew a butterfly and handed it to her. “She looked at it bemused,” recalled another guest. “At the end of the day, she absent-mindedly crumpled it and left it behind. Andy picked it up and had his mother write on it, ‘Crumpled butterfly by Greta Garbo’.” - from an article by Joanna Pitman, Before the soup can, July 28, 2007, Times Online (UK)

From 1974 until his death, Warhol lived in a 30-room townhouse on East 66th Street…

Editorial for Blog Action Day

I was so scared when I saw An Inconvenient Truth that I changed my prodigal ways. Today, Walking Off the Big Apple is participating in Blog Action Day, an event that challenges 15,000 or more people who are in a similar line of work to write posts about the environment.

New York City will be in enormous trouble should the prevailing tide of climate change continue. I mean that literally. With the rise in sea levels, a strong storm surge would devastate many of the low-lying residential areas. Lower Manhattan would suffer enormous consequences but also parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island would be affected.

The warmer weather we've experienced here over the past few years is also likely to continue. Warm weather leads to more smog, pollution, and the likelihood of disease and asthma. I could get really sick just walking around.

The economic impact of climate change would be serious. All the plans for new uses of the waterfront for housing and recreation would be a no-starter w…

A Pre-War Legend in Post-War New York

In October of 1953, two years after becoming a U.S. citizen, film legend Greta Garbo bought a spacious apartment in The Campanile at 450 E. 52nd St. A building of understated elegance by today's standards, the apartment building served the needs of discreet older New York families as well as other movie stars. The building, which takes its architectural inspiration from the counterpart in Venice's Piazza San Marco, sits at the far quiet south end of the street and with views overlooking the East River. Garbo lived on the fifth floor with a view of the river and the Queensboro Bridge, and she decorated her seven rooms with attractive antiques and art.

From 1953 until her death on April 15, 1990, she spent much of her time walking the nearby streets. She typically took a walk in the morning and then another in the afternoon after lunch. Sometimes a friend would accompany her, and at other times she was content to stroll alone. Her biographers describe several of her favored rout…

Upcoming Events of a Charitable Sort

Through a worthy game of blog tag, David of Dig 'N' Share has tagged WOTBA to pass on news of an upcoming charitable event sponsored by the Internet Marketers of New York. On Monday, October 15, from 7 to 10 p.m., the Town Tavern in the Village (3rd St. & 6th Ave.) will serve as the venue for a benefit to support The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Attendees are asked to make a $40 donation at the door.

I'm passing this info on to Kitty at New York Portraits and Mary at Newbie NYC. I like their websites.

Also, Oct. 15 has been designated as Blog Action Day. The idea is that bloggers will raise awareness about a particular subject on one day. This year's topic is the environment. Congrats, Al Gore & the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on winning the Nobel Peace Prize today! Though Walking Off the Big Apple is more of an online destination publication than a blog, I plan to write something on Monday about what parts of NYC will no longer be walka…

Accounting for Lost Time: High and Low Pressure

The winds shifted yesterday, from the foul warm winds of the west to a seasonable and variable wind of a cooler sort. The morning felt like summer, but the early afternoon seemed like fall.
I've been blown along these breezes, strolling the boulevards of broken dreams. Unable to focus after the Yankees' loss to Cleveland, I took a few walks along some favorite streets. Walking down certain roads can be as soothing as eating comfort foods, I have found. Walking south on Mulberry, for example, can substitute for a big ole helping of blueberry pie.
Yesterday's consoling streets included Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights and Barrow, Bedford, and Commerce in the West Village. Today, as I plan to speed my way through all the stages of grief, I may visit Nassau St. or W. 11th St., two other favorites.
Or I may visit one of several other streets that I do not wish to reveal to you right now.
I am researching a new walk, one that readers have requested, and I want to be alone.

Strolling Through the Home Improvement District

New Yorkers are like people living in the hinterlands in the sense that we, too, need to make trips to the home improvement stores. I'm talking your Home Depots, your Bed, Bath, and Beyonds. I am particularly attracted to the Beyond. We need these stores in a serious way, because we feel pressured to turn our tiny and expensive places into showcases for our fabulous sense of personal style. We also sometimes need mundane things such as sliders so that the chairs don't chew up the floor.

In Manhattan, these stores are not located at the far end of a vast parking lot, but in buildings of Beaux-Arts élégance. Many are fun to visit. Mostly you'll see New York residents in the Bed, Bath, & Beyond on 6th Ave. and 18th St., the location that I visited yesterday. I stayed in the store for nearly two hours, agonizing over a selection of duvet covers. I somehow believed that there was only one correct choice, and that if I chose the wrong color or fabric then I would be condemned…

"The Pain Threshold," Or, Maintaining Dignity with Our Euro-spending Friends

Or, alternative post title: "Who's Wearing the Fingerless Gloves Now?"

New Yorkers know only too well that it's expensive to live here. According to the latest census numbers, large numbers of New Yorkers shell out a large percentage of their income for mortgage or rent. Other dollars go to the utility company, the cable company, mass transit, and to caffe lattes grandes. That leaves precious little for a movie and brunch.

With the dollar now so deflated in relationship to the euro, New Yorkers have to work hard to maintain dignity with their euro-rich friends visiting from overseas. Vacationing friends will disappear for a spree in SoHo and bring home a bounty of goods to show off. "And it's all so cheap," they say. Or, I'll go out for a nice dinner with visiting friends, and while I'm looking for the thing on the appetizer part of the menu that's under $12 dollars, the friends will say, "And it's all so cheap!"

The weak dollar m…

I Left My Dog on the Elevator This Morning

Early this morning I walked our two dogs around the neighborhood as usual and then returned home to the apartment building. Both my dogs, a big one of diverse heritage and a little one of terrier lineage, seem to have no problem understanding the elevator system in the building. So this morning, we get back home from the walk, step into the elevator, and I punched the button for the floor. I dropped their leashes for the brief ride up. Usually, when the elevator door opens on our floor they like to dash out and race one another to the apartment door.

This morning, everything seemed fine until I reached our apartment. Maybe I was a little sleepy. Here's the big dog with me, I thought, as I unlocked the door. But where's the little one?

Maybe he already rushed into the apartment, and I just didn't...uh...notice...No, doesn't appear to be here...Or...maybe he's still in the hallway.
Uh...oh...

Over 350 people live in our building, and there are three elevators for servic…

Van Gogh, Flâneur, and CSI: Arles 1888

This past Saturday I visited the excellent exhibit Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard at the Morgan Library & Museum. The exhibit is comprised of previously unseen letters and relevant paintings and drawings by both artists.

I have since lost myself in Van Gogh's letters to Theo and others. Many describe his lifelong passion for walking, from early days in England through his recovery after the famous act of self-mutilation in Arles. In one of those early letters to Theo, Vincent vividly describes a day-long walk from the countryside to London and The Strand, noting that he walked a mile in twenty minutes. That is an excellent pace, neither too fast nor too slow! (See WebExhibits for Van Gogh's letters)

Émile Bernard (1868-1941) was a flâneur's flâneur. In addition to walking all over Normandy and Brittany, Bernard was expelled from school for insubordination, frequented brothels, partied with artist friends, and escaped to Egypt for ten …

The British Invasion: A Walk on 72nd Street

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of 72nd St. to examine British influence in the former colonies.

(revised 2012 ) Many New Yorkers have spent much of the last 400 years or so trying to keep British subjects* uneasy about settling here. Even with the first encounter in 1609 the indigenous peoples of this area greeted English explorer Henry Hudson with some good trading deals but then shot arrows through his crewmen's necks.
It's been like that ever since. So I've poured some Lyle's Golden Syrup on my porridge this morning and unfolded the map of Manhattan next to me in order to plan the next walk.
I will first explain where I am not going. I am not walking up Greenwich Avenue, a street with some very good English-themed shoppes such as A Salt and Battery (fish and chips) and Tea & Sympathy. This past spring merchants along here organized a lobbying campaign to designate the avenue as Little Britain in the Big Apple. I wish them well.
Knowing that these repeated invasions …